“Do you ever get scared driving around out here?”
We were somewhere between Colorado and Nebraska, nothing to be seen for miles but fields, cows and the occasional Trump billboard. It was our first road trip in a newly minted “vacationship,” and after enjoying an extended Fourth of July weekend out West, my gentleman friend and I were making our way back to Chicago. As I scrolled my Facebook feed in the passenger seat, my relaxed and romantic reverie was abruptly shattered by the news—and horrifying video—of Alton Sterling’s shooting early that morning in Baton Rouge, La.
Shaken, I shared the news with my companion, an artist who spends half the year driving throughout the country to exhibit his work. As a black man standing at a towering 6 feet 7 inches, driving a large cargo van with tinted windows, he’s conspicuous, to say the least. Ditto for our presence at several truck stops we frequented as we traversed America’s “heartland.” I couldn’t help but wonder if he felt at all plagued by the threat of being profiled as he simply went about his business. There was an uncomfortable pause before he answered me: “All I know is that when the police stop me, what goes through my mind is ‘I’m not going to win today.’ I just want to get through it, and get out of there alive.”
No doubt. But is it that simple?
Did Sterling think he was going to “win” in his confrontation with the police? Did he even have a chance to consider his options before he was on the ground, let alone before bullets were discharged into his body?
By the time my companion and I kissed goodbye the next day, another black man, Philando Castile, would also be dead at the hands of police in my birth state of Minnesota. This time the accompanying video was calmly and courageously live-streamed and narrated by Diamond “Lavish” Reynolds, the woman who loved him. Apparently, the revolution will be televised, after all.
As I watched Reynolds sublimate her fear and grief in an attempt to document her boyfriend’s homicide, seemingly instigated by driving while black, I couldn’t help but think that even loving while black is a revolutionary act. To dare to love each other in a society that arguably doesn’t love us (outside of our cultural contributions) is more than just romantic; it’s one of the bravest things we can do.
Because the truth is, we never truly get the luxury of simply being carefree black girls and boys who “meet cute,“ fall in love and live happily ever after, do we? This is a time to care, because no amount of “New Blackness” will protect us from the endemic racism still present in the good old U.S. of A. And as much as any other aspect of existing while black in this current climate, dating—and loving—while black now presents its own set of issues that must be addressed in order for love to survive. You know, because we needed more to worry about.
With the escalating onslaught of events, it’s nearly impossible to keep your head buried in the sand. But for the sake of staying in the comfort zone, many continue to (which might explain why some of your favorite black celebs remain conspicuously silent).
But in a relationship, communication is key, particularly when it comes to core issues and values. How aware is your partner of current events, and how does he or she feel about them? These conversations may be especially crucial in interracial relationships—but are by no means exclusive to them. After all, there are Israelis and Palestinians who have found love, but let’s face it: Revolutionaries and respectability politicians generally don’t make the best bedfellows.
OK, so your partner is fully aware of what’s going on and feels it’s a crying shame. But to what extent is he or she engaged? Is he or she a talker, a walker, both or neither? If you’re committed to convincing the world that black lives do, in fact, matter, you likely need a partner whose passion for the cause is equal to his or her passion for you. Awareness is cool, but without engagement, it’s pretty ineffective. We’ve all heard the proverb, “The couple that plays together stays together.” With that in mind, it stands to reason that the couple that protests together might progress together.
The insidious and overarching nature of racism requires a multipronged attack. Can you and the object of your affection reach common ground on the appropriate tactics? Is your partner insistent on putting boots on the ground, or does your beloved prefer to put his or her money where his or her mouth is, and effect change economically? The truth is, not everyone is a protester—or believes that protesting is the most effective strategy. And in an undeniably technological age, armchair activists shouldn’t be discredited, either, since social media has become an invaluable tool for outreach and raising awareness among those who avoid protests like the plague.
The important thing is that we don’t create a hierarchy of engagement when all types of engagement matter (yeah, I said it). Whether you feel that your commitment is best expressed on the front lines, at the cash register or behind a keyboard, being respectful of your partner’s perspective—even if it differs from your own—is vital to maintaining a united front. You may not choose to execute the same strategies, but respecting each other’s logic and method of engagement is a key component of respecting each other overall. And who knows? Your armchair activist may happily join you on the ground if he or she knows it’s important to you.
As a culture, black people have long extolled the virtues of the “ride-or-die.” But in a literal fight for black lives, this term takes on a painful and poignant new meaning. “When the revolution comes” is no longer a hypothetical; it’s encroaching upon our very doorsteps. All of us likely imagine how we’d behave in an encounter with the police, but unless and/or until that encounter takes place, we’re just hypothesizing, as well.
Have you and your partner openly discussed how you hope to handle those scenarios? Do you agree on the appropriate response? Have you developed a game plan? Can you trust your partner to have your back, and act in tandem with you? I don’t know about you, but if or when I find myself in a negative encounter with authorities, I hope I have someone like Diamond Reynolds by my side.
In order for black lives to truly matter, we have to keep on living. In times like these, that often means finding the joy inside our tears (thanks, Stevie). That doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to what is happening or abandoning our efforts. It’s simply a necessary method of self-care. Sometimes it may even mean finding some humor in the sheer absurdity of our current situation, as in this “Funny or Die” video my gentleman friend shared with me amid the myriad articles we’ve been exchanging this past week.
The fact is that depriving ourselves of our joy is another form of oppression and is therefore something we can’t afford to lose, even as we fight. Sharing joy is also a necessary component of creating a lasting bond between partners. Those of us experienced in protest culture are familiar with the chant “A people united will never be defeated.” For the sake of black lives—and love—let’s make sure that unity starts at home.
Maiysha Kai is a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, fashion model, devoted auntie and Brooklyn, N.Y.-based, single black bombshell who recently strutted into her 40s. She is also an expert at oversharing who chronicles her attempts at dating—and adulting—on 40onFleek.